Jens SpahnPhotographer: Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance via Getty Images

Merkel Challenger Assails the Chancellor With Her Own Words


While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, Angela Merkel will unlikely be pleased by an attack that echoes her famous 1999 takedown of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

In the battle for the inside track to replace the German leader, Health Minister Jens Spahn called on the Christian Democratic Union to emancipate itself from Merkel.

“We have to look forward,” Spahn said in an interview with Spiegel magazine. “After so many years marked by Angela Merkel, the CDU has to learn to walk again.”

His comments will sound familiar to the German leader. In December 1999, at the height of a party finance scandal, Merkel used almost exactly the same words to assail Kohl.

As the party’s secretary general at the time, she wrote an editorial for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung saying: “The party must learn to walk again and trust itself to engage in fights with the political opponent without its old warhorse.”

With Kohl weakened, her assault contributed to his downfall and paved the way for her rise. She was elected CDU leader in 2000.

Spahn -- the youngest contender in the current CDU leadership race at 39 years old -- seems to be trying a similar tactic. Merkel is reeling from her failed succession plan after her former protege quit and with the party in disarray from the fallout of a state chapter allying with the far-right Alternative for Germany to elect the leader of Thuringia.